DIY: Put pasta back on pedestal
Overcooked spaghetti. Sauce from a jar. It’s a shame pasta has become mundane.
I love pasta. I could talk about it for hours. It was one of the first things I learned to cook, and quickly learned to cook right. Fresh pasta was rare growing up. What we ate was store-bought, limp and usually waterlogged. Working in restaurants many years later, I first saw herbs and spices mixed into pasta dough. Once I started making it at home I was able to alter the recipe and find flavors I wanted in my cooking. Black pepper pasta was the first no-brainer. It has simple ingredients. It doesn't interfere with many other flavors. And look at it – pale yellow flecked with coarse black pepper. Beautiful.
The best way to rediscover this starch is to make it yourself and sauce it with simple ingredients. No need to fuss with simmering sauces or drawn-out techniques. Good olive oil and one or two fresh ingredients is all it takes to put you back on the road to pasta appreciation. We are focusing on fresh pasta here, folks. Hide the alfredo sauce, Put down the dried linguine. They have no place here.
Before we start rolling out the dough, there are a couple of important things to mention. 1. Use good ingredients. 2. Let the pasta rest in the refrigerator before you roll it out. 3. Don't be afraid of flour (it's your friend). 4. Cook it in plenty of salted water.
The key ingredient in this pasta recipe is freshly ground pepper. You should be using freshly ground black pepper in everything you cook, but that is another column altogether. Do yourself and this recipe a favor and get some whole peppercorns. You can crush them under a heavy bottomed pan, or use a blender on pulse to get the coarseness you are happy with (I use the blender ninety percent of the time).
After you have brought the dough together it is important to let it rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour. This lets it relax and makes it much easier to roll out when you are ready. If you were to roll out the pasta right away, it would spring back on you and make your life very difficult. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and throw it in the fridge. You can prep anything else you might need while you wait.
Whenever you are ready, unwrap your pasta, have some flour on hand and grab a rolling pin. Pasta machines are great, and can make the process a bit easier, but I have found that rolling out pasta by hand creates a texture you cannot replicate any other way. I just use an empty wine bottle, so don't think you have to run out and track down a rolling pin. I also always double the recipe so I can toss half of it in the freezer for later. As you start to roll out the dough, make sure to work in manageable portions; rolling out large sheets of dough can easily become an annoying task. It also helps to have a drying rack so the sheets can hang for a bit before you cut them into their final shape. I am proud to admit I use my clothes drying rack from time to time. No shame here.
Cutting the dough can be as simple as folding it loosely on itself and slicing away. You can make it as thick or thin as you want, depending on what you are serving it with. If you are more adventurous, you can try you hand at ravioli or tortellini. It isn't as hard as you think. The fresh cheese recipe I shared a few months back makes a great filling for stuffed pastas. Either way you cut it, making fresh pasta is a simple and impressive skill that will show you pasta’s potential.
Black Pepper Tagliatelle with oyster mushrooms and olive oil
For the Pasta
3 fresh eggs
3 cups of flour
½ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons of fresh ground black pepper
For the Sauce
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 large king oyster mushrooms
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center of the mound. Crack the eggs into the well and add the rest of the ingredients. With a fork, beat the eggs and start to incorporate the flour little by little, until it becomes too sticky to use the fork. Transfer the dough to a clean surface and start to knead in the rest of the flour until it isn't tacky and doesn't stick to you hands. You might need more flour, so make sure to have some on hand. When the dough has come together, knead for one to two minutes more, then wrap it in plastic wrap and throw it in the fridge. While the dough is resting, slice the mushrooms and heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. When the mushrooms begin to soften, add the garlic and toss. Cook for one to two more minutes, making sure not to brown the garlic. Remove from heat. Place a pot of salted water over high heat.
After an hour, unwrap the dough and liberally flour a clean working surface. Cut the dough into three pieces and, while working one piece at a time, roll out the pasta until it is the desired thickness. I try to roll it out until it is almost translucent, but still holds together. At this point, hang the pasta to dry while you work on rolling out the other sheets. After you have finished rolling out each sheet, dust them with flour and fold them up so you can cut them easier. Using a sharp chef's knife, slice the pasta into 1 cm ribbons. Toss with more flour, making sure they don't stick together. When the water boils, add the pasta, cooking for 45 seconds to one minute. Drain the pasta, reserving a half-cup of cooking water. Reheat the mushrooms and toss the pasta into the pan, adding enough of the pasta water to bind the sauce. Serve in a large bowl with extra olive oil or fresh grated Parmesan.